Artificial photosynthesis is being developed by researchers to help make food production more energy-efficient on Earth, and maybe one day on Mars.
For millions of years, photosynthesis has come into plants to convert water, carbon dioxide, and energy from the sun into the biomass of plants and the food we eat. However, this process is ineffective, with only about 1% of the power available from sunlight being stored in the plant. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Delaware have found a way to overcome the need for total photosynthesis and make independent diets without sunlight using synthetic photosynthesis.
A new study, published June 23, 2022, in the journal Nature Food, uses a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert carbon dioxide, electricity, and water into acetate, a major component of vinegar. Food-producing organisms then consume acetate in the dark to grow. Combined with solar panels to generate electricity for electrocatalysis, this biological system can increase efficiency by converting sunlight into food, which is 18 times more efficient than other foods.
“In our approach we want to identify a new way of producing food that can break the natural barriers imposed by biological photosynthesis,” said co-author Robert Jinkerson, assistant professor at UC Riverside, chemical and environmental engineering.
To integrate all system components, electrolyzer extraction was developed to support the growth of food-producing organisms. Electrolyzers are devices that use electricity to convert unripe substances such as carbon dioxide into valuable molecules and products. The amount of acetate produced increased as the amount of salt used decreased, leading to higher levels of acetate produced in the electrolyzer.
“Using state-of-the-art CO2 electrolysis reconstruction in our laboratory, we have been able to achieve the highest selectivity of acetate that can be achieved through conventional CO2 electrolysis pathways,” said the author. Associate Feng Jiao at the University. Of Delaware.
Studies have shown that a variety of organic matter can be grown in the dark directly in the release of acetate-rich electrolyzer, which includes green algae, yeast, and fungal mycelium-producing fungus. Algae production with this technology uses four times as much energy as photosynthetically enlargement. The yeast production is 18 times more efficient than it is usually grown using sugar extracted from corn.
“We have been able to grow food products without the contributions of biological photosynthesis. Usually, these insects are grown on plant-based sugars or petroleum-derived substances — a product of biological photosynthesis that took place millions of years ago. These technologies are a more effective way of converting solar energy into food, compared to food production based on photosynthesis, “said Elizabeth Hann, a medical consultant at Jinkerson Lab and co-author of the study.
The ability to use this technology to grow crops was also investigated. Cowpea, tomatoes, tobacco, rice, canola, and green peas all used carbon from acetate when grown in the dark.
“We have found that various plants can take up the acetate we have provided and build up in the cells to form the cells needed to grow and thrive. With some kind of breeding and engineering work we are currently working on, we can grow crops with acetate as a source of additional energy to increase yields,” said Marcus Harland-Dunaway, medical candidate at Jinkerson Lab and lead author of the book. Lesson.